Saturday, June 07, 2014

Fiesole -- a step back

Before there were Medici, before there were Popes and even before their were Romans, the hills around Florence were populated with graceful people who had a special love for pointy hats.
At one time, the Etruscans had the view of the world

Today we took the bus to Fiesole, a hilltop village overlooking Florence. At one time, Fiesole was the center of society on the Italian peninsula. It was the home of people called the Etruscans.

I have loved Etruscan art since I first saw it in a college art history class. There is a depth of humanity to the sculpture and pottery that somehow speaks to me. The Etruscans were known for their bronze statuary and their black pottery painted with fine lines of red and yellow.

Fiesole was the capitol of the Etruscan peoples. It had temples, villas, workshops and, apparently, an active political society.  Fiesole vied with that city on seven hills to the south as the commercial and political power in Italy.  Rome, however, produced better soldiers who swept through Fiesole and the rest of the world.

The Romans burned the Etruscan temple and built a grander edifice in its place.  They also carved a natural bowl in the adjacent hill into an incredible amphitheater.  We went inside, to the museum, to find the Etruscans. Outside, we found the bright Italian sun and the Roman ruins.

Making sense of a museum abroad is something of a detective story. In this case, the museum had cards with somewhat incomplete English explanations.  They also provided a Samsung Galaxy with an audio-visual tour that hit the high spots. For the rest, we stared at the Italian signs and tried out words until the seemed to make sense.

My favorite area was the display of small Etruscan votive figurines that were found in graves. They showed long, lean figures wearing pointed caps like the one that Pagliacci the sad clown often wears. Maybe the "tears of the clown" first fell in Fiesole. The Etruscan's were not clowns, though. The sophistication of the tools and ornaments they left behind is breathtaking.

Of course, the Romans are always breathtaking. About 100 years ago, a couple of farm hands dug up a rock that turned out to be a step in front of a Roman temple.  The eventual excavation revealed the temple foundations, a large bath complex and an excellent amphitheater, complete with storage for props and a control area to manage the curtains.  Don't take my word for the quality of the theater -- it is still used regularly for concerts and was being prepared for a new series while we were there.
The furnaces for the baths
The Amphitheater

The amphitheater amazes me, but the bath complex fascinates me. There are no thermal springs here, so the water was heated in cauldrons, while the smoke and heat helped heat the floor of the sauna-like hot room.  Water made its way down hill to the hot pool, the tepid pool and the plain-old pool. Plenty of room on the side for massages and gymnastics.  This was an egalitarian spa -- Romans of all classes used the baths free.

Cecile and St. Cecilia
Fiesole is much more than BC antiquities, however. No tour in Italy is complete without 1) having lunch at a sidewalk cafe and 2) visiting a church. Lunch was pasta with mussels, clams and calamari for me and traditional Tuscan roast pork for Cecile.

The Museo Bandini in an old church gave Cecile a special treat -- a icon of St. Cecilia. She is the patron saint of musicians -- quite appropriate for Cecile.

Another treat was coming across a poster of an early 1900s view of Fiesole -- the lane we were walking along. It gave us a chance to photographically put ourselves into historical perspective.

It was a great day, though we were hot and tired by the time the No. 7 bus took us back to Florence. Too hot to cook. After we cleaned up, we went to a nearby pizzeria for dinner. Unlike the huge, meaty discs you get a Shakespeare's, here each person gets their own pizza (about 12-inches). The crust is light and thin while the toppings are lightly scattered over it. Washed down with a Tuscan red,  it makes a wonderful meal and a wonderful end to a wonderful day.

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